QCinema 2018 |International Filmfest Competition Films, Short Takes (Part 1 – Oda Sa Wala & Hintayan ng Langit)

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Oda Sa Wala (Dwein Baltazar, 2018)

Sonya is an embalmer-mortician of a self-owned dilapidated funeral parlor housed at a two-story bahay-na-bato. She has an estranged father living with her and a loaner who visits her frequently to collect her payments, their land title and house pawned. But business is not that good, and the pawner’s pressures compound the personal struggles of our main character. One day, a dead body of an old woman is brought to Sonya by people who sound and do business like hoodlums. They assure her that she wouldn’t have any problems accepting to work on it, at the same time giving her an irregularly bigger sum of money than what she usually charge. The cadaver of a nameless old-white-haired woman will change Sonya’s life.

The movie in all film aspects is consistent with its theme. The set design captures the feel of things old and neglected: rusty-framed photographs, dilapidated wall panels, anything that spell out decay. The cinematography is drab gray, monochromatic, and you would not remember or notice any musical score. That’s how lonely and eventually creepy this production is. Except for that old Chinese opera track, which starts the movie and plays during Sonya’s birthday. It’s a brave, unique, and so deeply sad a premise: a woman longing for love and affection, and getting it from a cadaver. A mute mommy substitute.

Its script is well-written. I like that we nearly wouldn’t have known the name of the main character until mid-way the movie (or did I miss hearing it earlier), as if even the name needs to be forgotten. I like those long waiting time where we have to stare for minutes at a dining table without people, perfectly underscoring the blankness and drabness of the female protagonist’s life.

I like the emotional journey that the actress Marietta Subong has to bring us along with. She tempers the loud Pokwang in her. We learn about her desires and fears. And then in one magical scene, that dance to the tune of a Chinese opera song, she lets us peek at that right amount of merriment, that rare insane sunny disposition, that funny, energetic promise that her character has kept hidden to us for so long that it feels like we are given grace that moment– that is one mark of a good performance, filling our memories with those moments. This maybe Pokwang’s all-time best performance.

Dwein Baltazar keeps us hooked in spite of the seeming uneventfulness, the morbidity, the despair and loneliness of the scenes. I remember the opening frame, moths circling, a close-up of a flourescent bulb. It’s a visual ‘graphical’ match and a ‘decoy,’ an inversion of expectations, a representation of what the main character feels and thinks of herself: a sub for flies attracted and circling around a lump of human or animal excrement.

Hintayan ng Langit (Dan Villegas, 2018)

I must be out of touch with what this generation likes. In watching Hintayan ng Langit, people buy the one-liners that Gina Pareño as Lisang throws. Even her curses. And when she delivers hugot lines or displays her flirtatiousness, the audience reacts. I overhear my seatmate keep on telling himself, “‘rupok” (literally ‘brittle’ in English, figuratively ‘easy to give in’) when there is a romantic line or scene that makes the audience comment or sigh in unison.

I am not one of them, not similarly moved. In fact, I feel a little skeptical. Eddie Garcia as Manolo and Pareño as his old flame, in this rom-com set in purgatory, capitalize on what they are popularly known for: the manoy delivery and charm, the loudness and more pronounced physicality of acting that Pareño usually does in her earlier comedy-camp films, although not as vulgar here compared to, let’s say, her role in Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls.

Her character feels like eagerly needing attention from Manolo, and from us. We would know why–due to a painful event, a botched romance. Such acting could still have been tempered for me, too ‘commercial’ and ‘loud.’ I’m not complaining if that’s what’s required of them all. But I’m also not raving.

It is a gamble and a rare experiment to have senior stars animate a movie which has the regular rom-com and hugot imprints in it. That move is laudable. And based on it’s audience award and the full house screenings, then so far the movie is a success. It’s not as memorable as it could have been for me though primarily because of the performances (excepting Joel Saracho’s).

If you are a millenial you’d probably enjoy it like the audience did. So, go watch. But if you’re hard up and looking for something that great cinema could give, stay at home, read a book in bed or do crochet or cross-stitch work instead.

-Robert Cerda

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